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Menopause Overview

Women facing hereditary cancer have special considerations associated with early onset menopause and symptom management.

Menopause overview

During reproductive years, a woman’s ovaries produce hormones to prepare her body for pregnancy. After natural menopause or when the ovaries are surgically removed, these hormone levels decrease, leading to menopausal symptoms. The menopause experience is different for every woman, but typically, menopause caused by oophorectomy (surgical removal of the ovaries) tends to cause more intense symptoms than natural menopause.

For women with a BRCA mutation, removing the ovaries and tubes has been shown to increase survival. There are two other benefits of the surgery: reduction of ovarian cancer risk and breast cancer risk. 

To date the research on the safety of hormone replacement therapy after risk-reducing surgery has been reassuring, particularly for high risk women who have never had cancer. Still, many questions remain about the long-term benefits and risks of hormone therapy after surgical menopause. 

Concerns regarding menopausal symptoms should not discourage BRCA mutation carriers from pursuing risk-reducing removal of ovaries and fallopian tubes when appropriate. It is important for women who have undergone surgical menopause or who are considering prophylactic salpingo-oophorectomy to discuss menopausal symptoms and management with their health care team. Effective treatment for such symptoms is available, and is considered appropriate for many women with BRCA mutations. 

The North American Menopause Society (NAMS), a professional organization devoted to promoting women's health and quality of life through an understanding of menopause, certifies providers who have passed an examination and maintained ongoing education in the area of menopause. Such providers can be located on the NAMS website.

Facing menopause can be frustrating and you may want additional guidance or support. FORCE's Peer Navigation Program provides expert reviewed resources and 1:1 personalized peer support by specially trained volunteers who have experienced the very challenges you face.  

Updated 12/20/2018

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